When I read anything from Fulton Sheen, I have to sometimes set down the book and just let his words soak in for a moment. Each phrase weighted with meaning, each paragraph turning the prism on truth, looking at it from new angles and in a fresh light.
I don’t remember how I came to find Lift Up Your Heart, his brilliant book on finding true peace, but one chapter recently spoke to me deeply. I had been reading The Sacrament of the Present Moment by Jean-Pierre de Caussade, and Sheen’s chapter on “Sanctifying the Moment” seemed to have sprung from the same place: the absolute certainty that the key to peace and serenity – and holiness – comes from surrender to God’s Will in each and every moment precisely as it is presented to us.
“The phrase that sanctifies any moment is ‘Thy Will be done,’” Sheen explains. “It was that fiat of our Savior in Gethsemane that initiated our Redemption; it was the fiat of Our Lady that opened the way to the Incarnation. The word cuts all the guy ropes that attach us to the familiar, narrow things we know; it unfurls all our sails to the possibilities of the moment, and it carries one along to whatever port God wills. To say and mean “Thy Will be done” is to put an end to all complaining; for whatever the moment brings to us now bears the imprint of the Divine Will.”
Sheen called each instant the “University of the Moment,” for each moment contains such a wealth of instruction for us in the Wisdom of God. De Caussade went even further, suggesting that each moment contained a Kingdom because it held within it God’s Will: “There is no moment when God is not manifest in the form of some affliction, obligation, or duty.” He explains that it is by “this continual discovery, this manifestation, this revelation of the divine purpose of God in all things, that His kingdom is in us, that His Will is done on earth as it is in heaven, that He gives us our daily bread.”
Holiness, de Caussade would say, does not come in necessarily doing anything differently, but in doing the duties of our state in life with a different heart. We must have a heart completely resigned and aligned to the Will of God and embracing His plan for each little moment of our life, whether or not we can see the beauty in the ‘big picture.’
The small celebrations and sacrifices of the moments become the masterpiece of our lives when each stroke is brushed with love and surrender.
Sometimes in the messiness of life, when I feel that the moments come fast and thick with demands I cannot meet, when the worries of the day- even if I manage to ignore the worries of tomorrow – seem overwhelming, when the duties of the present press on me with a paralyzing heaviness, I am tempted to seek God somewhere else. Surely, I may suspect, He waits in a cave on Mt. Carmel, a cell in a cloistered convent, a silent chapel with a flickering red flame.
The truth is, of course, that if I should crawl into a cave to meet Him, He would not be there. He would still be in my kitchen. He would be in the midst of my family, the face of my husband, the demands of each precise instant, the small sufferings and sacrifices each second exacts. He would be in the breeze of a child’s need. He would be there cutting through my selfishness and dissolving my wishes and plans, mortifying every desire that is not anchored to His Will in the Now. “Whether contemplation, meditation, prayer, inward silence, intuition, quietude or activity or what we wish for ourselves,” de Caussade reminds us, “the best is God’s purposes for us a the present moment.” Whether we understand those sometimes mysterious, often painful purposes or not: “Whatever he may offer us is not our business but God’s.”
And, really, His Will is exactly where I want to be. Deep within it is my security, my peace, my salvation. I want to bury myself in the center of God’s Will.
One of my favorite stories is The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. She tells of the tension surrounding their family in Holland during the German invasion in World War II. One night, shaken awake by the thunder of bombs, Corrie heard her sister Betsie downstairs in the kitchen and left her bedroom to join her. Later, she returned to bed to find a sharp piece of shrapnel sliced through her pillow, exactly where her head had been. Meeting Betsie in the kitchen had saved her life. Overcome, she rushed to her sister. “Betsie, if I hadn’t heard you in the kitchen….” “Don’t say it, Corrie,” Betsie interrupted. “There are no ifs in God’s world. The center of His Will is our safety.”
Later the sisters would be captured for hiding Jews in their home. In the midst of unspeakable horrors in the German concentration camp Ravensbruck, there were to learn in a deep and unmistakable way this truth: God’s Will is our Hiding Place.
You are a hiding place for me,
you preserve me from trouble
you surround me with deliverance. (Psalm 32:7)
“In the order of Divinity,” says Sheen, “there is nothing accidental; there is never a collision of blind forces, hurting us, at random. There is, instead, the meeting of a Divine Will and a human will that has perfect trust that ultimate good is meant for it, although it may not understand how until eternity.”
So let us find God’s Will veiled in the sacrament of each moment, which brings Him to us and us to Him, the collision of His Will and our ‘yes’, the moment of grace, the only moment that matters. “For each day there is grace,” said Servant of God Chiara Corbella Petrillo as she bravely faced her own death. “We need only to make space.”
How I long to be the missionary of your divine will, O God, to teach the world that there is nothing easier, more ordinary, more available to all than saintliness!
-Jean-Pierre de Caussade
Photo by Alex Woods on Unsplash